How to Identify the Best AAC System and Devices for Your Needs

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) has given individuals new ways to express thoughts, needs, wants and ideas through means other than oral speech. That being said, there are several options to choose from when it comes to utilizing AAC. Depending on the severity of an individual’s speech or language impediment, one AAC system may be more ideal than others. There is also a wide range of AAC devices on the market, meaning there are several factors to consider during the selection process.

In the event that an individual can no longer use speech, he or she may turn to an unaided communication system. This type of system involves using the body to relay messages. Body language and sign language are forms of unaided communication, meaning they do not require a device to execute — the individual can communicate independently.

Unaided communication systems often consist of our earliest forms of communication. “Prelinguistic” or “presymbolic” are sometimes used to describe these types of communication systems. American Sign Language (ASL) is considered to be a more sophisticated form of unaided communication.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, aided communication systems are defined by the use of some types of symbols to convey a message. For example, printed words or braille may be a part of an aided communication system. The goal is to give an individual a tool he or she can use to relay messages.

These days, there are many AAC devices that can be used for regular communication. Keyboards, software, and selection (pointing) devices are just some of the resources that can be utilized in an aided communication system. There are also apps and software being developed specifically for AAC, which can be integrated into mobile devices, such as tablets.

There are benefits associated with both aided and unaided communication systems, so which is best?

Unaided communication systems require relatively adequate motor control on behalf of the individual. This is because the communication is largely based on the person’s ability to use his or her body to convey messages without external resources.

Aided communication systems allow individuals to relay messages to others through the use of tools, whether they involve technology or resources as simple as pictures. These tools may vary in their degree of complexity. For example, some devices can be programmed to produce a specific spoken language.

An aided communication system may also involve help from a speech-language pathologist who can bridge gaps along the way.

When it comes to choosing between an aided vs. unaided communication system, the decision will likely come down to what the individual requires for his or her specific situation. For example, an unaided communication system may not be an option if the individual has limited motor capabilities.

Preferences can also come into play when selecting a communication system, regardless of whether it is aided or unaided. These are all factors that need to be taken into account.

There are many AAC tools to choose from, but they can be split into two categories — digitized speech output and synthesized speech output devices. Those that have digitized speech output include natural speech that has been previously recorded and stored for playback.

The main components of digitized speech output devices are a microphone, filters, and a digital-to-analog converter. These features help individuals reproduce speech that closely mirrors their messages. The amount of storage and recording time on each digitized speech output device varies.

There are two types of AAC devices with synthesized speech output — those that require message formulation via spelling and physical contact, and ones that allow multiple forms of message formulation and various forms of contact.

· Required message formulation by spelling and physical contact. These AAC devices typically allow individuals to spell messages letter-by-letter to communicate. The individual must be able to physically touch the device to make selections while communicating.

· Multiple forms of message formulation and contact. Some AAC devices can be used with or without physical contact, and users can input their messages in different ways. For example, there are products that have touchscreens, which individuals can use to convey messages through selection. Many of these devices also store messages for quick retrieval.

In some cases, individuals may want to select a device with synthesized speech output if they are concerned about pronunciation and language accents. These AAC devices have algorithms that can translate variances in languages.

An AAC device with digital speech output can be more natural-sounding, as it uses sampled replications of actual human speech. These sounds may also be more understandable to the listener.

Depending on whether an unaided or aided communication system is in place, individuals may want to consider other types of AAC as well. For example, no-tech or low-tech communication systems — pen-and-paper, word boards, communication books — may be viable options in the event that users do not want to rely on battery power or electricity.

The bottom line is that there is a wide array of options available for those in search of an AAC solution. Weighing all of the options beforehand can help individuals determine which systems work best for specific needs.

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